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Why organisations must prioritise digital wellbeing in 2021

2020 presented a host of workplace challenges for many organisations, both big and small, especially with remote working being thrust on teams. For many people, this resulted in digital overwhelm, burnout and distraction. Working remotely led to ‘digital presenteeism’, where employees felt obligated to be seen to be responsive to digital communications. Whether your team is back in the office’, adopting a hybrid approach to work, or continuing to work remotely, digital technologies will continue to play a pivotal role in the workplace for knowledge workers.

Organisations who want their employees to flourish and bolster their productivity in 2021, must address digital wellbeing. A healthy, productive digital culture will not only bolster productivity, but it can also improve employees’ physical and psychological wellbeing, which can have implications on employee experience, retention and recruitment. Conversely, unhealthy digital cultures can erode performance and have adverse implications on employee experience, retention and recruitment.

In The Social Enterprise in a World Disrupted report by Deloitte, the 2021 hypothesis was:

“COVID-19 has reminded us of the dual imperatives of worker well-being and work transformation, but executives are still missing the importance of connecting the two. Organizations (sic) that integrate well-being into the design of work at the individual, team and organizational levels will build a sustainable future where workers can feel and perform at their best.” (Deloitte, 2020, p.13)

The report proposed pragmatic solutions to the ‘digital dilemmas’ many organisations face with regards to work design in remote work arrangements, such as changing scheduling and meetings norms, establishing email policies (based on the ‘right to disconnect concept) and deploying technologies and workflows that promote worker wellbeing.

The consequences of being thrust (almost overnight) into a remote work situation is now becoming evident. In 2020 employees assessed their mental health as poor or very poor, increased from 7% to 27% with 42% rating their stress levels as high or very high and one in four adults reported feeling depressed. The Future of Work report by PwC Australia found that remote work arrangements created a perceived pressure to be ‘always on’, resulting in blurred boundaries between work and home, compromising employees’ mental health. Colloquially referred to as ‘techno-stress’, the implicit pressure to be online and responsive diminishes mental health, with 32% of team members reporting a low ability to regulate their stress.

One of the chief contributing factors for the decline in mental health is digital bombardment: employees who struggle to digitally-disconnect and have a psychological break from work, digital distractions (Team of Slack notifications) constantly putting a dent in their productivity and subsequently inhibiting their ability to undertake ‘deep work’ and the constant digital onslaught of meetings. Given that many employees will continue with a distributed, hybrid model of working the impact of work on mental wellbeing is likely to continue.

The Future of Work report by PwC Australia found that whilst remote working certainly offered employees and organisations a raft of benefits (for example, 51% of respondents said that organisational culture had changed for the better), 61% of respondents also claimed that they spent more time in meetings and some felt the need to be ‘seen to be working’ (what I refer to as ‘digital presenteeism’).

Not only have mental health issues risen, but so too have physical health consequences since reverting to remote work arrangements. A study by OnePoll found that almost 6 in every 10 respondents indicated that they were experiencing screen-related aches and pains since the pandemic. Anecdotal reports from health professionals such as physiotherapists and chiropractors claim that they are treating increasing numbers of patients with a range of musculoskeletal issues because of excessive time on devices and incorrect ergonomics being adopted with more flexible work arrangements.

Organisations have long recognised that they have a legal duty of care when it comes to ensuring the physical and in more recent years, psychological wellbeing of their employees through a multitude of health and safety programs. However, given the increasing amount of time that employees are spending tethered to technology because of distributed work arrangements, it’s now also vital that workplaces also help their employees navigate the demands of a digital, distributed workforce. This is critical for business performance: depleted, digitally-distracted and disconnected employees cannot perform at optimal levels.

For many years, corporate wellbeing programs have focused on mental wellbeing and physical health through seminars and support programs that promote sleep, nutrition, physical fitness, happiness, resilience and mindfulness. There’s no denying that these are critical aspects of peak-performance. However, if we want employees and leaders to achieve peak-performance in a digital landscape in 2021, then focusing on digital wellbeing is now a vital component of wellbeing initiatives.

Employees and leaders are now operating in a distracted, always-on digital environment and organisations must establish and support a positive and sustainable digital culture within the organisation.

A Nexthink 2020 Report titled The Experience 2020 Report: Digital Employee Experience Today found that 83% of employees surveyed are looking to their workplaces for guidance to manage the digital demands of remote working. Innovative workplaces who want to invest in their employees’ wellbeing must now consider digital wellbeing as a critical element of their wellbeing and productivity initiatives.

 4 Pillars of Digital Wellbeing

In my keynotes (delivered on stage or online) I share the neurobiology of peak-performance in a digital age.  I help employees, leaders and teams tap into the biology of how our brains and bodies work best in the digital landscape,by sharing science-backed solutions to help employees optimise their digital experience at work (and home). I empower people to foster healthy and sustainable digital habits that support, not stifle, their performance and wellbeing.

This is not about abandoning technology, suggesting employees embark on a #digitaldetox, or avoid using their laptop at night, but rather about leveraging the benefits the digital world offers us, whilst also mitigating the potential adverse consequences from excessive or inappropriate use. The productivity paradox suggests that there’s a discrepancy between the significant investments in digital technologies (that were designed to improve efficiency) and productivity outcomes: as digital investments increase, productivity declines.

My research indicates that there are four pillars of digital wellbeing:

  1. Digital border and boundaries- create personal and organisational policies around how digital technologies are used to create clear ‘tech-pectations’.
  2. Neuro-productivity principles– applying our understanding of the brain and body to create productive work habits.
  3. Disable digital distractions– bolster your focus and attention by engaging in deep work, free from distractions.
  4. Digital disconnection– having time to unplug and engage in rest and recovery is vital for productivity, ideation and physical and mental wellbeing.

Whilst we may not know exactly how the world of work will work in 2021, it is safe to assume that knowledge workers’ reliance on digital technologies, for both work and leisure will continue. Fostering and promoting healthy digital behaviours is vital for employee wellbeing and organisational success too.

I can help your organisation optimise your employees’, leaders’, or your team’s digital wellbeing through one of my tailored presentations- delivered on-stage or online, as a one-off or series of presentations. Contact my team to enquire about how I can best support your team. I’d love to help your team flourish online.

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